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Digital skills training advances Zambian entrepreneurs’ ambitions

For Zambian youth and entrepreneurs, nothing could be more important than increased knowledge of, and access to, digital technology.

“With that, we could plan more efficiently and solve problems. We could improve government planning, develop our own solutions to our particular problems, and help all levels of society make well informed decisions,” said Ngabili Malumo, a 25-year-old with a background in data analytics, and water, sanitation and health services.

Malumo recently graduated from a multi-month online and in-person training course, named Digital Citizen, facilitated by the International Trade Centre’s #FastTrackTech initiative and conducted by Zambia’s Jacaranda Hub.

The Digital Citizen programme trained 300 participants on up to six digital topics ranging from IT security to databases. A selected 50 trainees were matched to mentors and went onto more intensive training, after which they also had the chance to meet with potential clients. At the end, a graduation ceremony was organized in which the selected trainees received their certificates.

“Digital technology is what is driving the world economy and in order for us to interact with more stable economies, we need to level up our digital space,” said Greyford Mwase, executive assistant, business development and strategy at Jacaranda Hub.

“We need more people involved in tech, we need to catch up with international norms and develop competitive products for the local, regional and international markets,” Mwase said

For Malumo, who works with a social impact enterprise and has been largely self-taught, the training offered valuable skills he otherwise would not have been able to afford.

“I learned how to ensure the work we do online is safe and protected, how to detect phishing, as well as working with databases and hybrid databases. The Access tool also gave us a platform to store our data efficiently and safely,” Malumo said.

Participant Chimuka Kanenga, who works in Zambia’s National Agriculture Information Services department, said she was able to apply the skills she learned in the training to her job right away, and is now about to launch her own communication business.

“Before, I was content with where I was, but the training opened up a whole new level of knowledge. I learned the cost-benefit analysis of opening a new business using digital technology, how to engage with communities and target markets,” she explained.

Kanenga also used the training to create important business networks. “You have to start somewhere. And this is the start for me,” she said.

The level of innovative thinking and ambition by the participants was something even Mwase did not expect. “By the end of the program, most of them had developed websites for their startups and were studying ways to reach international markets. That’s not something you see very often,” he said.

“Many startups in Zambia are informal, they don’t register or get certifications, which leaves them out of bigger funding opportunities. This programme helped them establish corporate governance structures for their digital startups and take the necessary steps to formalize their startups with the relevant authorities,” Mwase added.

The training course brought in trainers from varying business backgrounds and mentors who provided individual coaching.

For young entrepreneurs like Malumo, digital skills provide more than just expanding businesses opportunities. They are the doorway to a more equitable future.

“I foresee a future where everyone has access to digital technology and information. The effect will be huge. Imagine if we could use big data and Artificial Intelligence technology to better design interventions for solving the many problems we face as developing countries,” Malumo said.

“These are the things my peers and I talk about.”

 


#FastTrackTech: Financed by Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands Trust Fund, the #FastTrackTech project is committed to supporting digital entrepreneurs who aspire to international growth in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.

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WBG

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The Digital Development Global Practice recently launched a new approach to accelerate its work on gender equality, with an ambitious vision that centers women and girls across its financing and analytics. The approach orients solutions to the five foundational pillars of the digital economy: digital infrastructure, digital public platforms, digital financial services, digital businesses, and digital skills. It also emphasizes the need for more and better sex-disaggregated data and to tackle risks, such as algorithmic bias and online gender-based violence.

Digital Infrastructure

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Digital Public Platforms

Access to digital public platforms often requires digital identification, which women lack compared to men. Barriers that women face often include legal requirements to present additional documents, for example, a marriage certificate. High registration costs and inconveniently located registration points also deter women. The Nigeria Digital Identification for Development Project conducted a qualitative study designed to understand the needs of women and marginalized groups, which surfaced several solutions. These include working through trusted networks and women’s groups to share information; locating registration centers close to communities; and designing registration policies that prioritize vulnerable groups. Other options include women-only registration centers, mobile registration services, and female enrollment agents.

Digital Financial Services

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In Benin, where an estimated 19 percent of women make or receive digital payments compared to 38 percent of men, another World Bank initiative aims to provide women smallholders with a safe and private place to store their money and connect them with other financial services. Complementary training on digital financial literacy for recipients and promoting a network of women agents can also help, as social norms often limit women’s ability to interact with male agents.

Digital Businesses

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Beyond comprehensive support for women-led businesses, tackling investor bias is critical. Research suggests that the persistent gender gap in financing cannot easily be explained by differences in education, experience, sector, intellectual property, or geography.

Digital Skills

Building digital skills starts early with hands-on exposure to technology to build girls’ interest and confidence. Typically, complementing technical skills training with soft skills, engaging role models, and creating structured linkages to the labor market through internships, apprenticeships, and job placement programs have positive outcomes. The Kosovo Digital Economy Project, which trains rural women in programming and web design to become online freelancers, shows how digital skills training can create pathways to economic prosperity. Women with disabilities, older women, and illiterate adults may require tailored curricula and flexible programs with active outreach to develop their basic digital skills — another key area for engagement.

Cutting across these pillars is the need to address restrictive gender norms that prevent women from fully participating in the digital economy. Solutions to tackle these vary with context but addressing gender stereotypes and engaging men and boys are essential steps in shifting beliefs and behaviors.

Ensuring that women and girls have equal access to and use of digital technologies — mobile phones, computers, and the internet — is central to their economic and social empowerment and inclusive economic recovery. As we accelerate our efforts on the digital inclusion of women and girls, we call on our partners to join us in this ambitious agenda.

UN

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This is good news for global development, but ITU said that people’s ability to connect remains profoundly unequal – as many hundreds of millions might only go online infrequently, using shared devices or facing connection speeds that hamper their internet use.

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‘Connectivity boost’

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Internet access is often unaffordable in poorer nations and almost three-quarters of people have never been online in the 46 least-developed countries.

A ‘connectivity Grand Canyon’

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“In Europe, the shares are almost 90 per cent, which is the gap between those two regions of almost 60 percentage points. And there is what the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, has called in his Common Agenda blueprint for the future, “a connectivity Grand Canyon”.

‘Digitally excluded’

The report found that younger people, men and urban dwellers are more likely to use the Internet than older adults, women and those in rural areas, with the gender gap more pronounced in developing nations.

Poverty, illiteracy, limited electricity access and a lack of digital skills continued to hinder “digitally excluded” communities, ITU noted.

WBG

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Digital transformation is also being driven by the rapid growth of e-commerce, which is projected to expand 24% from 2020 to 2025, making it an increasingly important part of the tax base.

The increasing use of cashless payments, through mobile phones and other devices, is also powering the change. Such payments can be easily reviewed by tax administrations and often leave a digital trail that can be audited.

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A real-time, more user-friendly future

With these changes underway, taxation is likely to look a lot different in the future:

  • Instead of storing huge amounts of taxpayer data, administrations will have access to encrypted, distributed ledgers that allow them to capture tax information seamlessly and in real time. This has the added benefit of making tax administrations “less visible” to the public.
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  • Tax administrations could become warehouses for more and more government data. That will give them a central role in the formulation of economic policy, enabling policymakers to review transactions in the economy and allowing better forecasting.
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ITU

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Six winners emerged this year, spanning the five key categories.

Winning SMEs

The winners were:
Company Category​ Country
Benefit Vantage Limited – Ipification Connectivity Hong Kong, China
WIWI Connectivity Mexico
URBIT GROUP LLC Digital finance United States of America
Baobabooks Education Sàrl Education technology Switzerland
Mawidy E-health Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
SCE Korea, Inc. Smart cities, smart living Republic of Korea

ITU Deputy Secretary-General Malcolm Johnson recognized the winners and presented their certificates in the presence of Viet Nam’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Phan Tam.

This seventh edition of the Awards marked the final event of a three-month online conference and exhibition co-hosted by Viet Nam. Opening in September, ITU Digital World 2021 also marked the 50th anniversary of ITU’s flagship Telecom conference and exhibition series.

During the ceremony, a new partnership for ITU with US technology firm Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) was announced, aimed at accelerating the programme next year and equipping SMEs with access to HPE tools, networks, and mentoring.

Competitive selection

The competition was open to all SMEs worldwide, with winning projects ranging from mobile authentication and information accessibility to connectivity for public transport, financial technology (fintech), creative writing, and healthcare powered by artificial intelligence (AI).A jury of experts, representing the fields of business, technology and entrepreneurship, selected the winners from a total of 133 eligible applicants from 53 countries.

Prepping transformative SMEs

The ITU Digital World Awards formed part of an expert-led SME Programme of online masterclasses and pitching for digital SMEs. Maintaining the virtual format, the final awards ceremony celebrated the creativity and innovation behind digital solutions meeting real-world needs.

The special masterclasses explored areas such as sustainable start-ups and SME-corporate collaboration, bidding for government procurement opportunities, customer service and innovation, e-health, designing for disability inclusion and fundraising. The SME Programme and Awards are key components of ITU Digital World 2021, which was co-hosted with the Government of Viet Nam and took place from September-December 2021.

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